Written by Michael Matt | Editor
“Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
(What Did Jesus Say to Jeremiah Denton in the “Hanoi Hilton”?)
In his 1956 article, I Found God in Soviet Russia, concentration camp survivor John Noble writes: “I have seen Christianity under the most terrible persecution it has suffered since the days of Nero, and I have seen abundant proof that faith in Christ, the Saviour, is still alive in Russia today in the very places where the Communists have tried hardest to stamp it out, the concentration camps. It is triumphant testimony I have to give… and I am convinced it was God’s will that I be a member of that persecuted Church for several years in order to testify that God is with it and is sustaining it.” Reminiscent of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s account of how he found God in the atheistic darkness of the Gulag—a place which he defines as a direct manifestation of man’s abandonment of God—this extraordinary testimony of one who lived through the worst kind of physical persecution should give us pause. For inasmuch as today’s faithful Catholics face perhaps more universal afflictions of the soul than our forefathers faced at any time in history, it is nevertheless true that we have much for which to be grateful and, for the moment, even the time and opportunity needed to fight for that which we hold most sacred and which everywhere today is under attack.
“There is some good in this world,” Tolkien also writes, “and it’s worth fighting for.” We’re not in prison…yet.
Far from justifying despair in us or in our co-religionists, these attacks we see all around us are a subject for meditation, really—for action!—for as bad as things have become in Europe, the Americas and all across the world, we can see through Hell’s very refusal to give up the fight against the Cross that the triumph of Christ is inevitable. What should be an overwhelming victory for the forces of darkness that have destroyed Christendom and are now well on their way to destroying the very nucleus of society—the family—is instead a mere temporary advantage for them. They are still driven by fear and rage at the very thought of the Mystical Body of Christ rising again as it always has done, ever since the Resurrection on the third day. The growing threat of Christian persecution around the world is proof positive of the failure of the Revolution. When all else fails start starving the lions again, right?
It is true that when so many have succumbed to the spirit of the age, only the fool says: “It could never happen to me”; but it remains our duty before God and man to remain confident in the Cross and the Resurrected Christ, and to see to it that our work and actions during this time of persecution never contribute to the despair of those around us. In the end, Christ wins and we must keep this front and center at all times.
I’m the first to admit to a daunting sense of discouragement over what is happening to our Church just now. It seems we’re being asked to endure spiritual confusion, trials and tribulations not often seen in the history of Christendom—but not altogether unseen nor unheard of, either. Suffering and persecution have always followed close on the heels of the followers of Christ. Carrying the Cross is no more difficult today than it was two thousand years ago when His Own mother and friends had to watch Christ sufficate and bleed to death on Calvary. Was it easy for them? Was it easy for the early Christian martyrs to watch lions tear their children apart, maul their wives? Was it a simple thing for St. Thomas More to leave behind his beloved family, along with his head, for Christ’s sake? Did Maximillian Kolbe enjoy his torments and eventual execution in a Nazi prison camp?
If only we could come to understand that our time as followers of Christ is not so very special and that all this (or something like it) has happened before, then perhaps we can help each other reduce the number of excuses we can come up with to give in to despair. Darkness has always sought to overcome the light of Christ…always, but it also always fails in the end. As Jean Ousset wrote more than 40 years ago already:
Consider the ‘dark disorders’ in the history of the Church: The ‘dark disorder’ of the Great Schism, for example. Two and even three Popes hurling abuse at one another.
The ‘dark disorder’ of the Council of Basel, which declared the Pope suspect. The ‘dark disorder’ of whole nations, led by their priests, turning to heresy.
The ‘dark disorder’ of the Gallican and Jansenist bishops.
The ‘dark disorder’ of the trial of Joan of Arc by one bishop, one vice inquisitor, several abbots, the cream of the doctors of the Paris University, who were later to become the ‘experts’ at the infamous Council of Basel, which opened shortly afterwards. How the mother of Joan, and all the good Christians of Domremy must have been tempted either to revolt or to fall into despair when news arrived of the pyre at Rouen!
And God allows all this! Just as He allowed the cruel Passion of His Son and, as always, for the same reason—His greater glory and the greater glory of His Elect! Mystery of the redeeming Cross! Mystery of the Church! Mystery of the countless trials of the saints – all with but one sole purpose!
It is because our concept of the Church is now divorced from the supernatural and has become rationalistic, searching more and more for the “sense of history” in the hope of finding a purely human messianism, that we are losing the knowledge and the love of that adorable mystery of the Sacred Passion of our Holy Mother, the Church!
What is to be done? Just what Veronica and the Cyrenean did as the Master passed covered with blood, dust, spittle and vomitings, the crown of thorns clogging His hair with congealed blood, the face battered, staggering under the Cross, harried and pushed by the soldiers, humiliated by the people, condemned by the doctors, priests and theologians of the day.
Our duty is clear: first of all, we must have no fear, we must avoid bitterness, we must not become deserters, we must advance, we must remain firm in the Faith!
The ascendency of Pope Francis changes none of this, and neither does the election of something called Hillary Clinton!
St. Peter of Samaskos tells us that patient endurance of such trials as this “kills the despair that kills the soul; it teaches the soul to take comfort and not to grow listless in the face of its many battles and afflictions.” In other words, if we do what must be done in the face of this adversity and according to our time and place, we have the opportunity to be the saints God put us on this earth to become, to change history, to outlast the revolution, to earn the right to be called followers of Jesus Christ.
To paraphrase St. Catherine of Siena, “if we become what we should be, we will set the whole world ablaze.”
Like you, I’m sick to death of reading and writing about the latest scandals out of Rome, where our poor benighted pontiff seems hell-bent on undermining everything we hold sacred. If history provides us with a better example of the shepherd siding with the wolves I’d like to know what it is. But this doesn’t change what we must do. The task God sets before us now is the same as the one He set before Agnes, Barbara, little Lucy, Thomas More and all the rest — keep the old Faith despite the executioner’s axe and the myriad scandals of the day, and never join the company of those who’ve abandoned all hope, the very definition of the damned.
We are not damned. Think of that! For us there is still time—this time, our time!—and therefore every reason to hope and to go on and to fight and to love and laugh and to live in the company of those who know Christ. Regardless of the antics of Pope Francis amidst the diabolical disorientation that so obviously afflicts our Church, our job is to do what Catholics have always done—to know, love and serve God. And despair plays no part in that.
“Wait upon the Lord,” St. Bernard of Clairvaux tells us, “be faithful to His commandments; He will elevate your hope, and put you in possession of His Kingdom. Wait upon Him patiently; wait upon Him by avoiding all sin. He will come, doubt it not; and in the approaching day of His visitation, which will be that of your death and His judgment, He will Himself crown your holy Hope. Place all your hope in the Heart of Jesus; it is a safe asylum; for he who trusts in God is sheltered and protected by His mercy.”
The following article appeared in the print edition of The Remnant some years ago. It was written by James Hanisch and appeared under the title, “Through the Lattices.” Please, read it and be comforted by it. God and His Mother and His saints are still with us all, even during this time of darkness. How long this night lasts is up to Him, but we have His promise that He will be with us to the very end. And nothing can change that—not even a Modernist sitting in the chair of St. Peter. Keep hope alive and never lose heart, for this too shall pass and it’s always darkest just before the dawn. Viva Cristo Rey! MJM
Through the Lattices
King St. Louis IX loved to recount the story of one of his nobles regarding a famous Eucharistic miracle which had taken place in France. It seems that the Count of Montfort had among his subjects in southern France some Albigensians (who denied the humanity of Christ and His sacramental Presence), a number of whom determined to go and see for themselves the miraculous bleeding Host.
The count refused their invitation to accompany them, and his response—which so pleased the king—was that they should indeed hasten to see It and find a remedy for their errors. “Go and see It, you who disbelieve,” he said. For himself, he thanked God for the grace of having no need of such aids, recognizing the greater merit of a purer faith. “Not even the angels of Heaven can merit so much,” he said, “for they see face to face, and so cannot choose but to believe.”
Our Lord remains intimately with us, as He promised, and follows the movements of our hearts with unimaginable solicitude. But it is His way, as a rule, to veil Himself and the entire heavenly company from our senses. We would expect this, for He longs to reward our willing and docile faith, being no less solicitous for our merits than the Count of Montfort was for his own. To appear in His glory to every unbeliever, knocking him from his horse, so to speak, would be self-defeating. “Blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed” (Jn 20: 29). So we often sense His presence strongly, but always as if just on the other side of the wall: “Behold He standeth behind our wall, looking through the windows, looking through the lattices” (Cant 2: 9).
It sometimes happens, though, that He deigns to favor one of His faithful friends with a tangible manifestation of His love. In times of great stress or sorrow or need in a person’s life, He has been known to act in a clearly perceptible way, and that proverbial wall has fallen as suddenly as Jericho’s.
Rare as these events must be, we might all be astonished if we knew how often such things have taken place, even in our own day. Perhaps it would be of timely interest, as the Church Militant now so vividly directs our attention to the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering, to recall for the reader a few stories of such heavenly outreachings which various people have shared with me.
I was privileged to become very close with my grandmother during the last ten years of her life. She confided to me, some years after the event, a remarkable incident which she had clearly spoken of to no one else.
In a certain time of great loneliness and emotional pain, she sought comfort from Our Lady. That at least was nothing unusual for this seventy-five-year-old woman who still prayed several Rosaries daily on her knees. As she knelt by her bed, incapable now of half so many prayers as tears, she slung a bit of an accusation at the Blessed Mother. “I thought you loved me!” She heard distinctly from a little behind her, over her left shoulder, a gentle answer in a voice she could hardly describe: “I thought you loved me!”
She must have been at least a bit surprised to receive that audible response, but she told me that what shook her most was the sudden realization of how harshly she had addressed the Queen of Heaven. Some years later when the time for her end came, we grandchildren (for whom she had prayed all those Rosaries) got to see how a saint dies, and how faithful Our Lady is to her promise that She will personally come to assist Her devoted children at their death.
My grandmother, then, with her family praying the Rosary around her hospital bed, and she herself finally unable so much as to make the responses, suddenly sat upright. She gazed intently and reached out with both arms toward something up in front of her, and called with amazing force, “Holy Mary, Mother of God!” Then she lay back in her bed and was gone.
Senator Jeremiah Denton recounted his seven and a half years of imprisonment in North Vietnam in his book, When Hell Was in Session. Some years after its publication, though, while addressing a group of fellow Catholics, he spoke of an incident which he had not mentioned in the book.
Confiding an intimate memory to his audience, he described a time at which he was most pressed toward utter despair. He admitted that there had been many times in the torture rigs when he had prayed that he might die, but only once did a sense of despair overwhelm him outside of those sessions.
It happened as he lay awake in the middle of the night in his cell of the “Hanoi Hilton,” himself tormented by the screaming and even the crying of men who were then being tortured. Unable to communicate in any way with other prisoners owing to the guard leaning against his door, he felt himself collapse interiorly.
With the utmost effort, he “signed off,” so to speak, with a prayer of complete desperation: “Lord, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to pray about this.” The answer came in the most beautifully modulated male voice, from a distance of about eight feet from him. “Say, ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus, I give myself to You.’” Since that time there never passed a day, and scarcely an hour, in which he did not offer that prayer.
Was it his guardian angel who spoke to him? They do come through the wall sometimes.
The priest who most profoundly influenced me in my youth told me of an incident regarding an angelic manifestation within his own family. It came not at a time of obvious crisis, but at a mysteriously chosen moment, perhaps explainable only in terms of God’s merciful design for our lives.
When this priest’s mother was a small child, she once fell asleep on the living-room sofa and was left there for the night by her parents, who chose not to disturb her sleep. But late that night she did awaken, and was startled to see an unusual light coming from the kitchen. She hid herself at first beneath her blanket, but soon ventured out to investigate.
Approaching the kitchen, she beheld a luminous personage kneeling in prayer before a simple representation of the Last Supper which the family displayed on the wall. The angel turned to the girl and gave her a smile that inspired a fervor and vitality in her faith which would one day find a deep resonance in the soul of her son.
Surely the sweetest of such consolations afforded to us pilgrims in this sorrow-strewn vale of life are those in which we are allowed to see or hear again the loved ones whom we have lost in this world.
A close friend told me of a certain one of her family members who had been widowed and was greatly burdened, not only by the grief of losing her spouse, but especially by the pain of deep regrets over the needless troubles they had experienced in their marriage. She suffered intensely, until one day when she audibly heard her husband’s voice again, sweeter now though than ever in life, transformed by a Love whose action on our souls surpasses understanding. He said to her: “Don’t worry about those things, Kate. We were just learning to love each other.”
Stories such as these might move us to reflect on many things. I am most struck by the fact that such favors are given to “ordinary” Catholics, if there is such a thing. That is, in the lives of people of our own time, with whom we can easily relate, there have been granted these astounding penetrations of the “wall” that seems to divide us from the other parts of our Universal Church. And being thus reminded of Our Lord’s love for His entire Flock—whether Triumphant, Suffering, or Militant of the 21st century—we are encouraged to hope that when the time comes for us to individually pass through that wall, to be forever on the other side, there might possibly be a place found for such as ourselves, from whom Our Lord has asked only an ordinary-looking service.
Such a hope seems less well-founded when our thoughts of the Church Triumphant take us no further than a catalogue of the greatest heroes in the Church’s history. But in the examples above, we glimpse the glory of the Risen Christ ennobling the “ordinary” lives of our contemporaries. And if we are able to merit heaven by these seeming trifles, then these stories of hidden beings point also to the hidden economy of grace.
Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange writes in Providence about what other Catholic writers have termed the sacrament of the ordinary:
…[T]o each moment there is attached not only a duty to be performed, but also a grace to be faithful in accomplishing that duty. As fresh circumstances arise, with their attendant obligations, fresh actual graces are offered us in order that we may derive the greatest spiritual profit from them. Above the succession of external events that go to make up our life, there runs a parallel series of actual graces offered for our acceptance…. This succession of actual graces which we either agree to make use of for our spiritual benefit, or, on the other hand, neglect to do so, constitutes the history of each individual soul as it is written down in the book of life, in God, to be laid open some day for our inspection.
What seems, then, a quite inglorious succession of daily sacrifices and struggles undergone in His service, may after all be the indispensable foundation of our future eternal glory. It is difficult to imagine how there could be such a reward for so simple an offering, but St. Paul assures us—even us little ones, the course of whose lives may not appear to amount to anything special—Our glory is this: the testimony of our conscience, that we have conversed in this world not in carnal wisdom, but in sincerity and simplicity of heart, in the grace of God (2 Cor 1: 12).